Directed by Jenn Wexler
Written by Jenn Wexler, Giaco Furino
Starring Chloë Levine, Granit Lahu, Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler, Amanda Grace Benitez, Jeremy Holm, Larry Fessenden
Glass Eye Pix
Release date: August 17, 2018 (NY)
33 years ago to the day Dan O’Bannon’s punk rock horror classic, Return of the Living Dead opened in theaters. The spirit of that film is alive and well in The Ranger, a new punk rock horror film that opens in New York today, and had its premiere last night at the IFC Center in the village. The Ranger is the first film directed by Jenn Wexler, a producer with Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix. It was co-written and based on a script from Giaco Furino. Together, they not only kept the punk rock tradition of ROTLD alive, but created a whole new monster, and with it one of the year’s best horror films. Combining a kickass punk soundtrack, a psychedelic filming style, and one of the creepiest modern day bad guys in horror, The Ranger is a must see that leaves genre fans howling.
After the police raid a club and a cop ends up stabbed, a group of drug dealing punk rockers escape in a van that looks like Scooby Doo’s “Mystery Machine” on acid. Their plan is to lay low in Chelsea’s family cabin in the middle of a National Park. It was her uncle’s cabin, and we see through well edited flashbacks that something happened there when Chelsea was younger, that only she and a mysterious park ranger know about. She acquiesces, and the return to the woods brings a mix of memories and emotions. This is wonderfully brought out by actress Chloe Levine who manages to convey so much in short bursts of dialogue and long pronounced moments of silence.
Her group is made of archetypal characters for a genre film involving a cabin in the woods. Boyfriend and cop-stabber Garth is the loose cannon who’s easy to hate, but occasionally says something so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh. Amber (Amanda Grace Benitez), Abe (Bubba Weiler) and Jerk (Jeremy Pope) round out the “Scooby Gang,” and each manage to steal the spotlight with fun one-liners and a true sense of fun and eventual dread.
That dread is brought upon by the titular Ranger, played with a full sense of menace by Jeremy Holm. Holm is imposing as an actor, well over six feet tall, and his calm and downright stoic reading of National Park codes make for uneasy humor. He does an amazing job of projecting the crazy, without showing it right away. He reminded me of a blend of John Jarratt’s Mick Taylor in the Wolf Creek films and Bill Moseley’s Chop-Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I won’t give any spoilers, but suffice to say the plot dabbles in familiar “kids in the woods” horror territory, until a final act twist that is altogether unnerving, hilarious, and jaw-droppingly insane.
I watched a screener of The Ranger Wednesday night, and I really enjoyed it. Last night at its big screen premiere was exponentially better. The 77-minute run time allows for a brisk pace that never bogs down into stereotypical horror territory. The scenery and soundtrack are used so effectively, they become supporting characters in their own right. In my fantasy world, the events of this film and those of ROTLD are happening simultaneously.
Director Jenn Wexler and the cast and crew will be doing Q&As after the 8:25PM shows all weekend at the IFC Center. Last night during the Q&A, Wexler, stars Chloe Levine and Granit Lahu were there along with co-writer Giaco Furino, producer Heather Buckley, and more. They discussed the film’s punk rock influences, the soundtrack, the film’s unique style, and its amazing lead villain. They shared some funny stories about mosh pits, location scouting, and casting wolves. A killer night out, indeed. The Ranger will be at the IFC Center on 323 6th Avenue in Manhattan all week long. Go out of your way to see it.
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